On Romans 9:22

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In the discussion on Romans 9 over at http://www.faceofgod.wordpress.com in my first post on the Romans 9 debate (its post 2) I engaged in a discussion with a commenter. One of the points brought up was whether or not Romans 9:22 could be considered evidence for a Calvinist/Reformed understanding of the reprobation of sinners. The fellow I was talking to said that the verb for “fitted” in 9:22 is in the passive voice, which implies an external actor is the one doing the action, not human beings doing the “fitting” to themselves. If this is so, then God is the cause of fitting human beings for destruction.

The Reformed teaching on God’s involvement in damnation is that in his eternal decrees God decides He will permit the reprobation of some human individuals, passing over them and not electing them to eternal salvation. These individuals He prepares for destruction by setting their character (or at least setting them up so that specific features of their character would later develop) at the beginning of their life; because human beings operate deterministically they therefore will sin as a result of their character. Here’s (the important parts of) my response:

First of all, if we assume the focus is on God alone as an external actor and take the verb in verse 22 as passive, there are a variety of alternative ways of looking at this verb that do not entail a Reformed understanding of election.

Some commentators would agree that “fitted” in Romans 9:22 should be translated as “were made fit for by an external agent”, and yet would still not affirm a Calvinistic understanding of this verse. In his commentary on Romans, James Dunn states that he believes the passive voice is in play. Then he points out the following considerations that favor an understanding of the passive as indicating an action subsequent to the initial creation of the vessels:

(i) Paul uses this verb in other places to describe not the initial preparatory act of forming something as it is coming into existence, but rather the effect of action in the period since then. Hence it wouldn’t be so much that the vessels were initially made ready for destruction at birth, much less pretemporally; rather it would be a preparation for destruction subsequent to their initial existence (such as hardening of the heart or some similar idea).

(ii) Paul made a deliberate choice not to use the “pro” prefix (which he uses in 2 Corinthians 9:5). The pro prefix would have indicated that the action was “beforehand” and would have lent itself more to the meaning congenial to strong forms of predestinarianism (like Qumran). The absence of this prefix could be considered a deliberate choice on Paul’s part to indicate one meaning as opposed to another.

Given these considerations and others, Dunn concludes that the meaning of this verse is not that God created people who were destined for damnation because of how God made them; rather God created these people and then acted on them at some time in a way that was preparatory for destruction. This leaves open interesting possibilities for what this divine action is:

(a) the divine action of hardening of the heart—this would fit with the surrounding discussion of the hardening of hearts in 9:18 and 11:7.

(b) Dunn suggests the following: the divine action is God’s wrath being exercised by permitting people to experience their own sinful desires and their consequences—this would fit with the language of wrath and the background of Romans 1:18-32.

Neither of these would require the Reformed understanding of verse 22; and yet both are fairly plausible ways of reading it if we assume the passive is what Paul is using here.

Second of all the Ephesians passage [2:3-4] is meant to clarify what Paul says in Romans… to state that there is some reason to think that the “objects of wrath” are not a completely pre-set group where they cannot move to being “objects of mercy”. This would challenge the idea that 9:22’s “fit” is talking about an irreversible initial divine action of setting a person’s character.

Third, as Reformed commentator Douglas Moo says in his Romans commentary on page 607,

“Much depends on our interpretation of the participle “prepared” that describes the vessels of wrath. For Paul does not tell us who has done the “preparing.” Many commentators argue that the parallel with vv. 17-18—where God “raises up” Pharaoh and hardens—and with v. 23—where the subject of “prepared beforehand” must be God—make clear that God is the agent of this “preparing.” The phrase “prepared for destruction” would then refer to God’s act of reprobation whereby he destines the vessels of wrath to eternal destruction. However, others argue that it is the difference between Paul’s description of the vessels of mercy in v. 23 and the vessels of wrath here that is significant. In contrast to the active participle “prepared beforehand” in v. 23, Paul here uses a middle/passive that does not clearly bring God into the picture.”

As it turns out, (to quote my friend Keith who helped with this reference for me) “the grammatical form of the verb is either middle or passive (actually perfect middle/passive participle accusative—direct object—neuter plural) and one must argue for which voice is true to the context.” Moo argues for the second interpretation according to which “fit” is supposed to be read in the middle voice and thus God is not the actor described in this verse.

This interpretation is affirmed by at least two major Reformed commentators that I am aware of (Moo and Morris) and two major non-Reformed commentators (Witherington and Chrysostom, and I’m sure there’s more). Part of the basis for the case for the middle voice is the use of two different verbs for “fit/prepared” in verses 22 and 23. This intentional use of different words by Paul is one of the indicators these commentators see for the difference in meaning. Indeed it is possible to reject the passive construal of “fit for destruction by an external agent (God)” and accept the middle voice understanding “fit themselves for destruction”.

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12 Responses to “On Romans 9:22”

  1. henry Says:

    Hello MG,I enjoyed your discussion of the Rom. 9:22 passage and have some thoughts on this. First, the Calvinist **assumes** that the context of Rom. 9 is a discussion of what they call unconditional election, the notion that God preselects who will be saved before He creates the world and then by means of exhaustive determinism God ensures that these preselected ones (i.e., “the elect”) will all eventually come to faith. This assumption skews the meaning of the text into a discussion of unconditional election. Actually, if the text is carefully considered, the context in chapters Rom. 9-11 is the issue of the current (in Paul’s time) unbelief of Israel and whether or not this unbelief had in some way invalidated the promises of God. In Rom. 9:9-23 Paul gives a summary “history lesson” in regards to **Israel** not the world in general. All of his examples come straight out of the History of Israel involving real persons in real historical events. What appears to be the topic of discussion in Rom. 9 is the **sovereignty of God** in regards to His dealings with Israel.Second, the **sovereignty of God** is not the same as the exhaustive determinism as propounded by Calvinists. These are two different concepts and need to be kept distinct. The Calvinist conflates the two concepts so that they believe (and contend) that God is not sovereign unless He has exhaustively determined all events. But it does not logically follow that God is not sovereign unless He has exhaustively determined all events. God may also be sovereign (as understood by noncalvinists) **without having predetermined exhaustively every event which occurs**. This conception of sovereignty has in fact been the teaching of the early church and is held in common by the vast majority of Christians (except of course the Calvinists). It is also what the Bible itself teaches. Third, if Romans 9 involves Israel specifically and involves a discussion of the sovereignty of God in His dealings with Israel. Then it need not be referring to unconditional election as conceived by Calvinists, at all. God can (and does) choose to act as He sovereignly sees fit, which is precisely what Paul is arguing in Rom. 9. Since God’s actions in history are up to Him, and He does as He pleases (which is the biblical definition of sovereignty), He has the right to choose the children of promise (those who trust Him) over the children of the flesh (those who do not trust Him) [Rom. 9:6-8], to choose to work with Jacob in a different way than Esau, to have mercy on whomever He wills and to harden whomever He wills, and to mold one clay vessel for honor and another clay vessel for common use. God has the sovereign right to act in Israel’s history however He pleases. And Paul reminds his original readers of this truth when giving his brief history of God’s sovereign dealings with Israel lesson in vv. 9-23. Fourth, Paul had spoken early in the chapter of the distinction between the children of the promise and the children of the flesh (9:6-8). What is the distinction between these two types of persons, both of which comprised Israel? The children of promise respond in faith to God’s promises and the children of the flesh do not. The children of promise then are the children of Abraham (a theme and subject developed earlier in the book of Romans especially chapter 4). It is safe to say that the distinction in vessels of clay parallels the children of promise versus children of flesh distinction. So the clay vessels used for an honorable use parallel the children of promise and the clay vessels used for common use parallel the children of the flesh. Fifth, when God worked with Israel in the OT, He worked with the whole nation; His promises were given to the whole nation (cf. Rom. 9:3-4). And what is it that determined whether or not an individual was a child of promise or a child of the flesh? Their responses to the promises of God (the children of promise, as did Abraham, responded in faith to God’s promises; the children of flesh did not trust God did not respond in faith to God’s actions and promises). Who are the remnant, the true Israel? According to Rom. 9:6-8 it is the children of promise, those who trust the Lord, respond in faith to the promises of God.Sixth, Paul is dealing with an issue that caused him great personal emotional turmoil (cf. 9:1-2). The issue is the (as a whole) unbelief of Israel in response to the coming of their Messiah, Jesus. This could at first glance cause someone to conclude that perhaps God’s promises, His Word, had failed (9:6). So in Rom. 9-11 Paul is providing an answer that will show how in fact God remains sovereign, God’s Word has not failed, there continue to be two types of people determined by their response to the promises of God (the children of promise who trust and the children of the flesh who do not). This distinction is present throughout chapters 9-11. Seventh, Paul directly lays out the reason for Jewish unbelief in 9:32-33: “because they did not pursue it in faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” Put simply they rejected Jesus who had become the center of God’s redemptive plan and promises. Rejecting Christ is to reject the way of salvation is to reject God’s greatest promises, is to become a child of the flesh. Eighth, Paul continues the discussion and emphasis upon salvation by faith throughout Romans 10 (e.g. “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” [or in the context of the book of Romans “you shall be a child of promise” whether you are Jew or Gentile]. We need to make a logical conclusion and connection here: how does one become a child of promise (whether Jew or Gentile) by believing in and trusting in God and His promises. So the logical corollary is that one becomes a child of the flesh by unbelief. Ninth, Now here an important contrast between the Calvinist and noncalvinist positions emerges. In the Calvinist scheme only and all of those preselected for salvation will at some point become believers. And all of those preselected for damnation at no point ever have the possibility to become believers. The nonbelievers or “reprobates” eternal destiny is fixed and unchangeable. The noncalvinist does not accept or believe that individual person’s eternal destiny is set or fixed or determined before they live their lives on the earth. The noncalvinist believes that God offers Himself and makes promises that people are free to accept and trust in (become a child of promise), or to reject and rebel against (remain a child of the flesh). When the apostle Paul discusses the Olive tree analogy He speaks of natural branches (the Jews) and unnatural branches (the Gentiles). He speaks of how both branches need to become part of the one Olive tree. And in the midst of this discussion he writes: “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.” (9:19-23) How does one enter into the olive tree? Again, it appears to be by faith (whether Jew or Gentile) interestingly it speaks of some branches being broken off, if getting in is by faith, then how do these branches get out? By unbelief. Also, note what it says about God’s treatment of those who have unbelief (get brok
    en off): they were broken off for their unbelief; He did not spare them, to those who fell severity (but to those who get into the tree; kindness). This brings up an important point: God’s severity, his not sparing them, his breaking them off of the tree, IS BASED UPON THEIR UNBELIEF, it is not based upon some of them being preselected to damnation or a plan that predetermined their every move causing them not to believe, to never have an opportunity to be saved. As in Rom. 9, the distinguishing characteristic that determines whether someone is a child of promise or child of the flesh, part of the Olive tree or not part of the Olive tree is faith and unbelief on the part of individuals. It is also significant that in the Olive tree analogy Paul speaks of some branches that are cut off and then get regrafted back into the tree (if unconditional election were true, this would be someone being elected to salvation, then being elected to non-salvation and then being elected to salvation again; being predestined to be elect, non-elect, and then elect again; no Calvinist teaches this, so since the Olive tree analogy is God’s description and is true, the Calvinist description does not fit the Olive tree analogy and must be false).Now if we keep all of these things in mind when approaching the Rom. 9 passages which refers to the Potter and the clay, we can note some things. Rom. 9:19-24 is also part of the discussion/context in which the issue of Israel’s unbelief is being discussed. Part of this context is that there are only two types of persons: children of promise and children of the flesh. It would appear then, that the two types of clay then refer to these two different types of persons. And how does one become a child of promise? By faith. How does one become a child of the flesh? Unbelief. How does one then become a vessel of honor in the Potters hands? By faith. How does one then become a vessel of wrath in the Potter’s hands? By unbelief. Recall the Olive tree analogy again, how did some Jews become children of the flesh, or become persons cut off from the Olive tree? By unbelief. And in the Olive tree analogy what does **God** do in response to these branches that were cut off? God does not spare them, to those who fell severity. Calvinists assume their doctrine of unconditional election involves a selection of individuals that fixes their eternal destiny before they exist. In the Potter analogy the Potter first has a lump of clay to **work with**. Were the vessels of honor or vessels of common use, **already** finished vessels from the beginning, or does God work the clay and develop the clay into vessels of honor/common use? Yes God is sovereign and has the right to do whatever He wants to do with His creation. But this sovereign God also created human persons with a capacity to make choices to both trust God and reject God. So the clay that God works with is not inanimate, not unconscious, not without the capacity to make choices. So God is working with this living clay and those who respond in faith are worked/molded into vessels of honor. Those who respond in unbelief are worked into vessels of common use, vessels of wrath. It is significant that in the midst of the discussion of the vessels of wrath it says “although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, ENDURED WITH MUCH PATIENCE vessels prepared for destruction”. Why the reference to PATIENCE? Why not some statement that He just fashions them exactly as they were preselected to be? Because the clay is not inanimate, is conscious, does make choices including unbelief, and does actively respond with faith or unbelief to the actions of God the Potter as He works with them/molds them.MG you have been discussing whether or not the verb is middle or passive. The analogy of the clay is emphasizing what **God** doing with the clay. It is not really discussing the actions of the conscious clay which chooses to trust or chooses not to believe. From God’s perspective, looking at His side of the equation, those who respond in faith He puts into the Olive tree/fashions them into vessels of honor. Those who respond in unbelief, face the severity of God and are broken off from the Olive tree and fashioned into vessels of wrath. But this fashioning of the clay whether into vessels of honor or vessels of wrath is a process of how individual human persons respond to God IN HISTORY. The clay analogy does not refer to a static decision made in eternity, fixing individual person’s eternal destinies, without reference to their actual actions/responses to God IN HISTORY. If we compare the clay analogy with the Olive tree analogy, we see that things are not fixed before the actions occur. It is significant that I sometimes will compare humans (if Calvinism/exhaustive determinism were true) with conscious puppets or conscious robots whose every action and thought and belief and desire and response is completely determined by an outside person. Calvinists balk at this and will claim that a puppet is not representative of a human person because it is not conscious and does not have mental properties including a will and the capacity to make choices. They will also say that the ANALOGY BREAKS DOWN when comparing puppets with humans because humans have mental properties that puppets do not have. There is an important point here, analogies have limitations and they do break down. Analogies do not, nor are they intended to tell the whole story. They are usually used, like parables to convey a point not provide a systematic theology. OK, if an unconscious puppet/robot are not analogous to human persons. Then neither is a Potter working with unconscious clay that has no mental properties no will and no capacity to make its own choices. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander as well. Seems to me that in both cases whether it is a puppet/robot or pieces of clay, the analogy with human persons breaks down UNLESS THOSE ENTITIES HAVE MENTAL PROPERTIES, A WILL, THE CAPACITY TO MAKE CHOICES. But if the clay is not inanimate, rather the clay is conscious, the clay does have a will, then the development of the clay into different vessels will involve the responses of the clay to the working of the Potter. The point of the analogy in Rom. 9 is that God is sovereign and has the right to do as He pleases with His creation. The verb could be middle in which case the children of the flesh, the vessels of wrath make themselves into what they are by their unbelief. Or the verb could be passive and refer to how because of their unbelief God then fashions the children of flesh into vessels of wrath. The real point of the analogy in Rom. 9 concerning the clay is that God has the right, as sovereign God, to do whatever He pleases with His creation. He pleases to save those who trust Him and so fashions them into vessels of honor. He also pleases to fashion into vessels of wrath, those whom He puts up with, has patience with, due to their unbelief. If we compare scripture with scripture in Rom. 9-11 we need not be concerned that Rom. 9 teaches unconditional election as we see throughout chapters 9-11 of Romans that there are two types of people, the children of promise/flesh, two types of responses that determine who is who (faith and unbelief) that God’s Word has not failed (He is always seeking those who will trust Him and those are the people that are His own that are children of Abraham. And that even the present (in Paul’s time) unbelief of the majority of Israel does not show that God’s Word has failed or that God has not made efforts to save people (including the incarnation of Jesus, the ministry of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus, with Jesus becoming the stumbling stone and also the center of God’s promises for both Jew and Gentile). Rather it shows that God is still sovereign, still saving those who trust Him (both Jew and Gentile), still reaching out to the natural branches seeking to get them into the Olive tree by a faith response on their part.
    Rom.9:22 only becomes a problem when you read it with Calvinistic glasses on, when you ignore the role of actual human responses in the salvation process, when you do not compare scripture with scripture within Romans 9-11 and when you attempt to proof text from isolated verses because you are attempting to prove the unbiblical notion of unconditional election. Rom. 9:22 does not say destinies are preselected and predetermined in eternity apart from any responses on the part of human individuals. Rom. 9:22 is an analogy showing that God is sovereign. God being sovereign does not mean that He has exhaustively predetermined every event. Rom. 9:22 speaks of events IN HISTORY not unconditional election of individuals. The discussion in Rom. 9 concerns actual historical events and God’s working in Israel’s history.Henry

  2. MG Says:

    Henry–1. I probably agree with what you say in your first paragraph. In fact, I’ve been arguing for that very position against a Calvinist fellow on the blog I mentioned at the beginning of the post; check it out if you get a chance.Your second and third paragraphs discuss things I am also aware of and I agree with them.For paragraphs 4-6: your identification of “children of the promise” with “those exercising faith” seems questionable to me. If by faith you mean saving faith and you are talking about faith in a salvific sense, then I’m not sure how well that squares with the example of Ishmael who does not inherit the promise but yet seems to be saved if we look at the OT. Also it seems that the issue in respect to Jacob and Esau is one of God’s covenant favor to Israel as a nation, not the salvation of either individual.Paragraphs 7-8 seem fairly solid in their content; but I think the issue of faith is led into by discussion of how God bestows covenant blessings and uses his agents in history, which is the subject of Romans 6-21.Most of the rest of what you say I also consider valid; it seems that for the most part we agree about Romans 9.

  3. henry Says:

    We seem to agree on many things concerning Rom. 9:22 as you wrote:===================================“1. I probably agree with what you say in your first paragraph. In fact, I’ve been arguing for that very position against a Calvinist fellow on the blog I mentioned at the beginning of the post . . . .Your second and third paragraphs discuss things I am also aware of and I agree with them.Paragraphs 7-8 seem fairly solid in their content; but I think the issue of faith is led into by discussion of how God bestows covenant blessings and uses his agents in history, which is the subject of Romans 6-21.Most of the rest of what you say I also consider valid; it seems that for the most part we agree about Romans 9.”=================================== You state your disagreements in the following paragraph: “For paragraphs 4-6: your identification of “children of the promise” with “those exercising faith” seems questionable to me. If by faith you mean saving faith and you are talking about faith in a salvific sense, then I’m not sure how well that squares with the example of Ishmael who does not inherit the promise but yet seems to be saved if we look at the OT. Also it seems that the issue in respect to Jacob and Esau is one of God’s covenant favor to Israel as a nation, not the salvation of either individual.”MG in your opinion what distinguishes the “children of promise” from the “children of the flesh”? It seems that even the Nation of Israel itself consisted of these two groups, hence “not all Israel (some were children of the flesh) is Israel”/Rom.9:6 (i.e. the real Israel, the real descendants of Abraham, are the children of promise, those saved by faith and manifesting a life of faith as Abraham did).MG you also appear to be assuming (as do the Calvinists) that Rom.9 is speaking of individual salvation (“I’m not sure how well that squares with the example of Ishmael who does not inherit the promise but yet seems to be saved”), rather than the subject of the **sovereignty of God in Israel’s History**. In the story of Isaac and Ishmael, Isaac is the child of promise brought forth by a miracle of God while Ishmael is the child of the flesh brought forth by Abraham’s efforts when he did not trust God. One was the result of God’s sovereign and supernatural intervention, the other was the result of man and natural processes. The story as with the others that the apostle Paul refers to in Rom. 9 all share the common denominator of God making a sovereign choice and intervening, but the issue is not individual salvation (MG if as you claim, Ishmael was a saved person, if that is so, then the choice of Isaac over Ishmael could not have been dealing with the unconditional election to salvation of one and not the other; if both were saved).I think that in trying to argue with the Calvinists some have mistakenly assumed the **same assumption** held by Calvinists, namely, that the text of Rom. 9 is discussing individual salvation and specifically in the minds of the Calvinists, unconditional election. Since the Calvinists are attempting to prooftext from Rom. 9 they are seeking **something** which sounds like people being chosen for salvation before they were born and hence fitting what the Calvinists want to believe as unconditional election. But this prooftexting is ignoring the context of Rom. 9-11 which is dealing with the problem of Jewish unbelief as supposedly showing that God does not keep His promises. Ignoring that Paul brings up historical instances in the history of Israel of the sovereignty of God in Rom. 9 (not God making choices of individuals for salvation in eternity). All of these stories involve God’s sovereignty but they do not involve unconditional election to salvation in eternity. These stories all involve God’s sovereign interventions in history where he makes sovereign choices including Isaac over Ishmael (with regard to the supernatural work of God versus the natural work of Man), Jacob over Esau in regard to the birthright, having mercy on whom He wants to have mercy and hardening whom He wants to harden, and fashioning the clay as He wants to.The story of Jacob and Esau is not talking about individual salvation with one being saved and the other not being saved. Rather, the story concerns **who was to receive the birthright** (normally given to the eldest, but God wanted it to go to the younger man, Jacob). It is Calvinists attempting to **prooftext** from the text of Rom. 9 who argue that the stories refer to individual salvation rather than the sovereignty of God in Israel’s history.It is significant that Paul does in fact talk about individual salvation but does so primarily in Rom. 10 after establishing in Rom. 9 that God is sovereign, as seen in the history of Israel. So God decides who His people will be and He has decided that His people will be those who have a personal relationship of love and trust with Him as modeled by Abraham the father of all who have faith both Jew and Gentile. After discussing God’s sovereignty in Rom. 9 and individual salvation in Rom. 10, Paul then puts it all together in Rom. 11 where he discusses the Olive tree analogy. It is interesting that Calvinists rarely discuss Rom. 10 or 11 which are just as important in Paul’s argument (which treats Rom. 99-11 as a unit) as Rom. 9. They attempt to argue from Rom. 9 as if the text is isolated or stands alone and apart from Rom. 10 and 11. A clear illustration, proof of this, is that Calvinists will argue from Rom. 9 that God has mercy on some (meaning that He unconditionally elects some individuals to salvation) and hardens others (meaning that He elects nonbelievers to reprobation/hell) leave out the two crucial facts: (1) Rom. 9 is referring to God’s sovereignty in having mercy on whomever He desires to have mercy (with the examples all being from Israel’s actual history), and (2) in Rom. 11 Paul says that God HAS MERCY ON ALL: “From the standpoint of the Gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all” (Rom. 11:28-32). In these verses the mercy being shown **is** in regard to individual salvation (i.e. it is salvific). What is extremely important here is that Paul says that while God has allowed all to be disobedient, He has done so for the purpose of having salvific mercy on all. And yet we know from other NT scripture that not all will be saved. So from Rom. 9-11 we see that God is sovereign in specific non-salvific instances (primarily discussed in Rom. 9). He is also sovereignly having mercy on all in a salvific sense according to Rom. 11. This parallels nicely with how the apostle John wrote that for God so loved the World that He gave His Son in a salvific sense for the World (and yet not all of the people of the world end up believing, some do, some do not; similarly in Rom. 11 the salvific mercy of God is upon all, but some are saved and some are not).Calvinists skip over Romans 10 and 11 going straight to Rom. 9 in order to prooftext in support of their position of unconditional election. They do not immediately go to Rom. 11:31-32, because these verses contradict their position (they believe that God loves or has mercy in a salvific sense ONLY UPON THE ELECT, while the Bible says he loves in a salvific sense [Jn. 3:16-17] and has mercy in a salvific sense upon [Rom. 11:31-32] more than just those who eventually become believers, but upon the World (with the “World” being less than all human persons and yet meaning more than just those who eventual
    ly believe). In a recent Calvinist book presenting the Calvinistic notion of unconditional election, CHOSEN FOR LIFE by Sam Storms (recommended by some Calvinist leaders such as John Piper, J.I. Packer, Thomas Schreiner, etc. Etc.)there is no discussion of Rom. 11:32. So Storms like most other Calvinists runs to Rom. 9 ignoring that it is not talking about the salvation of individuals but is discussing God’s sovereignty in Israel’s history, arguing that when it speaks of God having mercy in Rom. 9 it refers to unconditional election. IGNORING that in Rom. 11:32 it speaks of God HAVING MERCY IN A SALVIFIC SENSE UPON ALL PEOPLE. HenryPS – MG I have a suggestion for you about a very interesting topic that we could discuss: we could discuss the problems in Calvinistic theology. I have lots and lots to say on this topic. Their misinterpretation of Rom. 9:22 is just a small subset of all of the errors that they make.

  4. MG Says:

    Henry–I think I might have confused you. You wrote:”MG you also appear to be assuming (as do the Calvinists) that Rom.9 is speaking of individual salvation (“I’m not sure how well that squares with the example of Ishmael who does not inherit the promise but yet seems to be saved”), rather than the subject of the **sovereignty of God in Israel’s History**.”I actually agree with this! I thought that when you talked about “Faith” you meant it in a salvific sense. My response about Ishmael was actually supposed to be an argument against the idea that the Isaac/Ishmael example is an instance of God’s electing an individual to salvation. I thought you meant Romans 9 was talking about individual salvation, and I was trying to argue against this idea; ironically you weren’t saying that and so I confused you a lot. Sorry about that!As for hearing more of the problems with Calvinism, I’m actually very well-acquainted with both sides and know many of the flaws with Calvinism (hence the fact that I’m not Reformed, and sometimes discuss/debate with Reformed people). That being said, feel free to tell me some stuff if you’d like.

  5. henry Says:

    MG you wrote:”I actually agree with this! I thought that when you talked about “Faith” you meant it in a salvific sense. My response about Ishmael was actually supposed to be an argument against the idea that the Isaac/Ishmael example is an instance of God’s electing an individual to salvation. I thought you meant Romans 9 was talking about individual salvation, and I was trying to argue against this idea; ironically you weren’t saying that and so I confused you a lot. Sorry about that!”Thanks for the clarification. It seems that we are agreed that Rom. 9 is not discussing individual salvation. Rather it is discussing the sovereignty of God especially as seen in Israel’s history.MG you also wrote:”As for hearing more of the problems with Calvinism, I’m actually very well-acquainted with both sides and know many of the flaws with Calvinism (hence the fact that I’m not Reformed, and sometimes discuss/debate with Reformed people). That being said, feel free to tell me some stuff if you’d like.”MG I believe that we could have a mutually beneficial discussion of the flaws of Calvinism. We could “compare notes” on this subject.Would you like to discuss these flaws in Calvinism on this thread or start another one?My opinion is that we should do this in another thread. But it is your call as this is your blog. If you want to start this particular discussion on another thread, just start the thread and I will respond. If not, let me know and I will discuss it on this thread. Looking forward to an interesting discussion with you on this subject.Henry

  6. The Angry Viking Himself Says:

    Henry-Hate to barge in, but you really should look at the Romans 9 debate on the Coram Deo site. I’m not sure your contentions about Calvinists just prooftexting and not caring about context square with the arguments you’ll find there.

  7. henry Says:

    The Angry Viking wrote:”Hate to barge in, but you really should look at the Romans 9 debate on the Coram Deo site. I’m not sure your contentions about Calvinists just prooftexting and not caring about context square with the arguments you’ll find there.”I have looked at the Coram Deo site discussion of Romans 9 and believe that MG made a good case for the plausibility of a noncalvinistic interpretation of Romans 9. At the close of the discussion MG wrote:“On my interpretation, it tells a narrative of Israel’s history, and how God has operated throughout that history. Any unconditional election that may be happening in Romans 9 doesn’t seem to me to be an unconditional election of individuals to salvation but rather God deciding how to order his agents in history and who receives blessings wholly apart from their obedience or merit.”I concur with what MG says here. Romans 9 is a brief “history lesson” concerning God’s sovereignty in His actions relating to Israel in history, it is not a discussion of unconditional election of individuals to salvation or damnation, in eternity (as calvinists assume/attempt to proof text from).Proof-texting occurs when someone starts with some idea, and then seeks to find bible verses to support the idea that they want to believe in. In the case of the Calvinist, they want to believe that God has exhaustively predetermined all events including people’s salvation/damnation. Calvinists want to believe that God preselects and predetermines who will be saved and not saved completely independent of any actions on the part of the persons preselected (i.e. unconditional election). So the calvinist then seeks to find bible verses that he believes support or defends his preferred idea of “unconditional election”. We need to keep in mind an important distinction here. The Bible defines God’s sovereignty as: He does as He pleases. Note carefully that doing as He pleases is not equivalent to predetermining all events that occur. Calvinists often appeal to Romans 9 to support their exhaustive determinism and belief in “unconditional election”. In so doing they are proof texting. The OT stories referred to by Paul in Rom. 9 all involve the sovereignty of God (that He did as He pleased in regard to Jacob/Esau and the birthright, having mercy on whomever He desires/hardening whomever He desires, vessels of mercy/vessels of destruction). But showing that God is sovereign and makes sovereign choices in the history of Israel is not sufficient to establish or support the calvinist’s belief in exhaustive determinism/unconditional election. Romans 9 is being properly used, when it is used to show that God is sovereign and does as He pleases (as is acknowledged by Christians from all three major traditions: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant). That is not proof-texting as it involves arriving at ones conclusions from properly interpreting the biblical texts. However, to attempt to argue that Romans 9 shows that God predetermines all events, and/or that God predetermines who will be saved or not saved/unconditional election, is overreaching the evidence. Where you find overreaching of the available evidence you find proof texting (the text is not sufficient to establish what the proof-texting person desires to support/prove or defend). MG in his comments has already shown that the text does not warrant calvinistic inferences or conclusions (that a plausible interpretation which is noncalvinist can be provided for the Romans 9 text). There are some reputable scholars, such as N. T. Wright, who also argue that Romans 9 is not even discussing individual salvation. The idea that the issue in the historical examples given by Paul is individual salvation/unconditional election, is read into the text by Calvinists. Consider some of the historical examples which Paul cites in Rom. 9. The hardening of Pharaoh is not referring to his individual salvation or damnation, but to God’s interactions with Pharaoh when the Israelites were about to leave Egypt. The preference of Jacob over Esau is in regards to the birthright, not the individual salvation or damnation of these two individuals. Romans 9 then, clearly affirms God’s sovereignty, but it does not affirm the calvinistic conception of God’s sovereignty as exhaustive determinism, nor does it affirm the Calvinist belief in **unconditional election**.Henry

  8. The Angry Viking Himself Says:

    Ah, well, I suppose we thoroughly disagree then. As the author of what you seem to have found to be the entirely inadequate Calvinist defense on Coram Deo, I did not approach this passage seeking to proof-text Calvinism. I had no idea what it even said (off the top of my head anyway) until Dave asked me if I wanted to come up to Biola a few weeks ago. My response to you was more in regards to your “Actually, if the text is carefully considered, the context in chapters Rom. 9-11 is the issue of the current (in Paul’s time) unbelief of Israel and whether or not this unbelief had in some way invalidated the promises of God.” assertion in your first response. I 100% agree with this assertion and was actually arguing that repeatedly in our discussion. Of course, I was calling this passage far more than a simple history lesson, but a vital setup for the ‘ingrafting’ section which follows: Ingrafting makes great sense if the true Israel which Paul is talking about is only the faithful Israel and the deadwood is being cut away. I also was not in any way assuming that the context of Romans 9 is a “discussion of what they call unconditional election.” But without rehashing my old arguments (which I apparently am incapable of clarifying), I will quietly shut up and walk away.

  9. MG Says:

    No need to quietly shut up and walk away; you are welcome here.I agree that you weren’t trying to prooftext for Calvinism in Romans 9. And your emphasis on the fact that Romans 9 is a theological text with a specific historical and social context is quite refreshing; some people I’ve read or known don’t realize this.

  10. The Angry Viking Himself Says:

    I’m wondering if you wouldn’t profit some from reading more of people like Abraham Kuyper, or, for a developing field, the work of Peter Martyr Vermigli, a theologian of equal stature to Calvin whose works were formerly lost. Several of the people who you’ve mentioned as Calvinists (ie. Douglas Moo) are linked more to Anglicanism and don’t come readily to mind as good examples of Calvinist thought. You might enjoy someone who is a colleague of Moo though; D.A. Carson (who I believe is a Reformed baptist) does a phenomenal job dealing with exegesis, translation, and particularly Christian response to postmodernism.Anyway, I get the distinct sensation from reading both MG and Henry’s comments that you have had a far different encounter with Calvinism from me. I don’t know if it has to do with exposure to sources or which thinkers you’re calling Calvinists or what, but every now and then you make comments that really don’t jive with my understanding/experience with Calvinism…but that could be my heritage in the Dutch Reformed tradition, not sure.

  11. MG Says:

    Donald–You said:”I’m wondering if you wouldn’t profit some from reading more of people like Abraham Kuyper, or, for a developing field, the work of Peter Martyr Vermigli, a theologian of equal stature to Calvin whose works were formerly lost.”Hmm. Maybe I’ll look into that. I’ve never heard of Vermigli. What kind of specific benefits do you think I would glean from reading them?”Several of the people who you’ve mentioned as Calvinists (ie. Douglas Moo) are linked more to Anglicanism and don’t come readily to mind as good examples of Calvinist thought. You might enjoy someone who is a colleague of Moo though; D.A. Carson (who I believe is a Reformed baptist) does a phenomenal job dealing with exegesis, translation, and particularly Christian response to postmodernism.”Carson is an okay fellow I think; haven’t read much of his stuff. In terms of quality of biblical scholarship I don’t think he’s even close to a Witherington or a Wright. The disparity between his goals (defending, supporting, explaining, and practicing modern Reformed baptist-esque evangelicalism) and mine (constructive/speculative philosophical theology, patristics, socio-rhetorical exegesis, natural theology, certain kinds of apologetics) have led me to veer away from focusing on him. I’ll read his stuff that defends imputation and Calvinism; that way I’ll know if I need to change my beliefs and give up on the whole non-Calvinism thing. But insofar as I remain unconvinced by his central theological ideas, I don’t think I would enjoy the rest of what Carson has to say.”Anyway, I get the distinct sensation from reading both MG and Henry’s comments that you have had a far different encounter with Calvinism from me. I don’t know if it has to do with exposure to sources or which thinkers you’re calling Calvinists or what, but every now and then you make comments that really don’t jive with my understanding/experience with Calvinism…but that could be my heritage in the Dutch Reformed tradition, not sure.”Hm. We might be defining Calvinism a little differently. One of my friends who used to be Reformed Anglican (now Roman Catholic) would call himself a Calvinist, but he meant it somewhat more loosely. Many of the features of Calvinism that your average reformed person will defend so dearly (limited atonement, compatiblism) he eventually renounced. He called himself a “Reformed Catholic”. He would always correct my statements like “all Calvinists believe in x” by bringing up examples of groups that apparently didn’t, but were close enough to Calvinism (in his opinion) to still merit the name.That might explain some of the confusion, perhaps. I’ve tried to stick to defining Calvinism in my mind according to roughly “believing in a fairly traditional understanding of the 5 points”; I tried not to get too confused by my friend’s Reformed Catholicism. (if you’re reading this, Mr. ex-Calvinist, then please know that I’m not attacking you, lol; I’m just saying you defined Calvinism in a funky way)Quick question: have you ever read any sophisticated non-Calvinist theologians or exegetes? (NOT Norman Geisler, lol)

  12. The Angry Viking Himself Says:

    Yeah, several. Considering my degree is in history and not theology, I do this more as a hobby; however, I read several of N.T. Wright’s works. Specific to our Romans 9 debate, I read Dunn’s commentary on the book. “But insofar as I remain unconvinced by his central theological ideas, I don’t think I would enjoy the rest of what Carson has to say.”That’s a real shame. His book on the inclusive-language debate in scriptural interpretation was one of my favorites. In general, Carson is often more of a moderate than a polemicist (as I fear you think most Calvinists fall into the latter category). One of my favorite things about his style is that he is equally quick to criticize weaknesses in his own method as those of others. In his book on exegetical fallacies (which is about interpretation much more than doctrine), he actually totally destroys several of his earlier sermons and papers.

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